SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Have you ever had a first sip of coffee from your takeout cup — and burned your tongue or lips?
Well, that might be a nasty surprise of the past now that an Australian company is launching its "smart" lids.
Smart Lid Systems, a division of family-owned Noshmell Pty. Ltd. of Kensington, Australia, has introduced its award-winning, heat-sensitive coffee lids to cafe outlets in Sydney.
It has secured patents for the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Smart Lids could be in global coffee stores soon, saving sippers from scalding themselves with the world's favorite hot drink.
Co-owner and director Anthony Bayss, who runs the business with his brother and father, said 12 years of R&D have gone into the lid, which is made of high-impact polystyrene with special plastic additives that change color to reflect the liquid's temperature.
The lid turns bright red with heat — a visual indicator the drink is above 118° F — and changes back to a darker color as the drink cools.
Bayss said the only warning device available until now has been a hard-to-read "Warning, hot contents" message on the surface of standard white lids.
Smart Lid Systems has worked in collaboration with Australia's largest manufacturer of plastic food-service items, Rema Industries and Services Pty. Ltd. of North Rocks, to make the lids.
R&D took place in Japan, France and the U.S. The lids were tested in war veteran health-care facilities in Texas.
Smart Lid Systems is a licensee of the Australian Made Campaign, with the Aussie invention already available for export via pallet orders.
Bayss said the lids won The Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award, ahead of 600 technology firms from around the world; the AmeriStar Best of Show and Food-Institutional Award, and Australia's Occupational Health & Safety 2011 New Product of the Year Award.
The ultimate aim, he said, is to manufacture the lids in the U.S. and Europe, and break into supermarkets where "tens of millions of cup/lid combos" are sold.
The Smart Lid is now used in many Sydney cafes and there has been a lot of interest from overseas, including the U.S., Europe, Russia, China, India and the Middle East.
"But the biggest response to date has been from local coffee drinkers. ... It is not always easy to persuade cafe owners to change their packaging supplies," Bayss said.
"We are taking baby steps at this stage, but it may require big steps soon if we want to break into the U.S. and Europe.
"We hope to convince cafes they can stand out in a crowd, be a little different, by offering our Smart Lid. I am sure their customers will appreciate it," he said.
He estimates a Smart Lid will add less than a penny to the cost of a cup of coffee, which can easily be absorbed into what is already a high-profit product.
Bayss said Smart Lid Systems is ahead of the competition. Though the company expects "cheap knock-offs" from China, it will take rivals several years to work out the production process, Bayss said.
"There is a specialty process required for the additives [that enable lids to change color]. And we believe we have got every possible intellectual property covered," he said.
The company plans a major marketing campaign, including sending small sample boxes of lids to every cafe in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Bayss believes word of mouth — or no burning of the mouth — will spread fast.